172. The Animals – The House of the Rising Sun (1964)

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It may have only spent a week at number 1, but the impact of The Animals’ The House of the Rising Sun‘s was huge. It ushered in a new genre, folk rock, inspired Bob Dylan to go electric, and proved a hit single could be twice as long as was expected.

The origins of this traditional folk tale, whose author is unknown, date back hundreds of years. It shares a similar theme to the 16th-century ballad The Unfortunate Rake. Originally, the song was written from the perspective of a prostitute who worked at a brothel called the Rising Sun, with the oldest published lyrics (from 1925) beginning:

‘There is a house in New Orleans, it’s called the Rising Sun
It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl
Great God, and I for one’

The earliest recording, known as Rising Sun Blues, was performed by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster in 1928. Later versions came from Woody Guthrie in 1941, Lead Belly in 1944 and 1948 (entitled In New Orleans and The House of the Rising Sun respectively), Joan Baez in 1960 and Nina Simone in 1962.

The version by The Animals most closely resembles Bob Dylan’s cover for his eponymous debut album in 1962. This is the first and certainly not the last time we’ll encounter Robert Zimmerman, who has never scored his own number 1 but whose songs have topped the charts several times over the years.

Dylan had swiped his arrangement too, from fellow folk revivalist Dave Van Ronk. An unusually sheepish Dylan asked Ronk if he was okay with him recording it, and Van Ronk asked him to hold off as he was about to go into the studio to record it himself. Dylan then admitted he had already recorded it.

The Animals formed when singer Eric Burdon joined The Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo, who had been a unit since 1958. Making up the rest of the band were Alan Price on organ and keyboards, Hilton Valentine on guitar, Bryan ‘Chas’ Chandler on bass and John Steel on drums. It’s usually believed that their new name came from their wild stage act, but in 2013 Burdon claimed they used their name by way of tribute to a mutual friend known as ‘Animal’ Hogg.

They moved to London in 1964 in the wake of Beatlemania to get signed, and subsequently did, to EMI Columbia. The group specialised in heavy versions of R’n’B numbers, and their first single, Baby Let Me Take You Home narrowly missed out on the top 20. According to Burdon, The Animals first heard The House of the Rising Sun in a Newcastle club, sung by Northumbrian folk singer Johnny Handle. They were touring with Chuck Berry, and were searching for a number to close their sets with that would make them stand out from other groups. It’s doubtful they realised they had stumbled upon their sole chart-topper.

Producer Mickie Most certainly didn’t realise. Most made a name for himself as a producer of  many hit singles over the 60s and 70s, and clearly had an ear for a good tune. But really, who could blame him for thinking The House of the Rising Sun was too long and not commercial enough?

It took only 15 minutes and one take in a tiny studio to record one of the decade’s most memorable number 1s. Valentine’s spine-tingling arpeggio intro, in which he plays Dylan’s chord sequence but on an electric guitar, is one of the greatest openings to a song of all time. Then Burdon’s deep growl begins, and the rest is history. Some have argued that the lyric change to make it about a man with a gambling addiction make the theme of the song less interesting, and they have a point, but really, all should be forgiven during this tour de force.

No number 1 had ever stayed stuck in one groove before, and certainly not for over four minutes (previously the record for the longest duration for a number 1 belonged to Harry Belafonte’s Mary’s Boy Child in 1957; The Animals would hold the record until the Beatles’ Hey Jude in 1968). The feeling is hypnotic and relentless, particularly during the second half when the band take it up a notch and Price goes to town on his Vox Continental.

I can imagine the impact of hearing this back then must have been similar to the birth of skiffle, where Lonnie Donegan had plundered old tunes and added an intensity that had rarely been heard up to that point. By the time they had finished, Most was a believer.

Despite the fact the whole band contributed to the arrangement, there was only room for one name on the record label, and as Alan Price’s forename was first alphabetically, he got the credit. This would later cause resentment, as Valentine understandably thought he should receive royalties for his part.

Two months after hitting pole position in the UK charts, The House of the Rising Sun spent three weeks at number 1 in the US, becoming the first bestseller during the British Invasion to be unconnected to The Beatles. Upon hearing it on his car radio, Bob Dylan immediately stopped driving, got out and banged on the bonnet. He was blown away, and a seed had been planted.

The Animals went on to have more great hits, including We Gotta Get Out of This Place and Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. In May 1965 Alan Price left to go solo, citing personal and musical differences and a reluctance to fly while on tour. He formed The Alan Price Set, whose highlights include Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear. Dave Rowberry became his replacement, but by the end of the year the group were already falling apart. The history books are full of bands who got a raw deal due to mismanagement, but the Animals had suffered more than most.

In 1966 Burdon formed a new backing group and they became known as Eric Burdon & The Animals, adopting a harder psychedelic sound and relocating to California. He also formed the funk band War in the following decade.

Meanwhile, Chas Chandler became Jimi Hendrix’s manager and producer and was an integral part of his success, before doing the same with Slade in the 70s. He died in 1996, aged 57.

The original line-up of The Animals reformed in 1968, 1975 and 1983, and several different versions of the band using that name have existed over the years.

The Animals stood out in 1964 for refusing to play the game and adopt the Merseybeat approach. They didn’t turn on the charm, and they didn’t smile for the cameras. Another group were rising up the charts, and their fame would soon eclipse that of The Animals. The Rolling Stones were about to have their first number 1.

Written by: Traditional (arranged by Alan Price)

Producer: Mickie Most

Weeks at number 1: 1 (9-15 July)

Births:

Pocket cartoonist Matt Pritchett – 14 July

171. Roy Orbison – It’s Over (1964)

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The pop world had changed massively since Roy Orbison’s first number 1, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), in October 1960. Nonetheless, during this period Orbison had plenty of hits, including Running Scared and Crying in 1961 (Don McLean’s cover of the latter went to the top of the charts in June 1980).

It was while he toured Australia in 1962 that he was first referred to as ‘The Big O’ by a DJ, and in 1963 he developed the onstage persona that was as idiosyncratic as his voice. While touring with The Beatles he left his thick glasses on a plane and was forced to wear his prescription Wayfarer sunglasses instead. Not only did this help such a shy performer cope with his stagefright, they also made him cool – a word that was unlikely to have been associated with him before then.

The tour with The Beatles was supposed to be a joint headliner, with Orbison replacing injured guitarist Duane Eddy. The Big O was bemused by the level of fame The Beatles were enjoying, and allegedly asked with some degree of annoyance ‘What’s a Beatle anyway?’, at which point John Lennon tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘I am’. On the opening night of the tour, probably in a bid to get his bit over with, Orbison volunteered to go on first, and the Fab Four were left awestruck at his ability to work a crowd by barely moving throughout his set. For a band who would do their utmost to win over their audiences with charm, this must have been quite a shock to them. The two acts became firm friends, and of course Harrison would later join Orbison in the Travelling Wilburys.

Orbison’s constant touring took its toll on his private life, unfortunately, and his wife Claudette, who he adored and paid tribute to in a song named after her (The Everly Brothers had took it to number 1 in 1957), got sick of being alone and began an affair with the man who had built their home. He was also now working with a new co-writer, as Joe Melson was frustrated at not becoming a star in his own right. Orbison’s new collaborator was Bill Dees, and it was very likely that they had Claudette’s waywardness in mind as they began writing It’s Over, considering they were divorced by the end of the year.

Of course, so much of Orbison’s work concerned heartbreak, but It’s Over is the most stark example of such in his oeuvre that I’m aware of. It’s certainly the most successful, and I doubt there could be more bleak song in his back catalogue. Over a heavy, ominous drumbeat, Orbison brings on the misery like a gravedigger shovelling soil onto a coffin. ‘It breaks your heart in two, to know she’s been untrue’… if there’s any doubt that Orbison is in as much pain as the lyrics suggest, just listen to that final 20 seconds in which he sings ‘It’s over’ with emotion so raw it’s almost hard to listen to.

That a song so dark and operatic could make it to the top of the pop charts, at any point in time, let alone during peak Beatlemania (the film A Hard Day’s Night had just been released) is astounding. Elvis was the only other US act that could get a sniff of a number 1 spot at this point. Yet Orbison still had another number 1 in store for him before the end of 1964.

Tip: If It’s Over doesn’t grab you first time around (and it’s not exactly catchy, so don’t be surprised), listen again, preferably through earphones. It worked for me.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 2 (25 June-8 July)

Births:

Author Joanne Harris – 3 July 
Comedian Robert Newman – 7 July 

170. Cilla Black (Accompaniment directed by Johnny Pearson) – You’re My World (Il Mio Mondo) (1964)

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Three months since her first number 1, Anyone Who Had a Heart, Cilla Black was at number 1 again, with You’re My World. This ballad was an English language version of the Italian Il Mio Mondo, written by Umberto Bindi and Gino Paoli. The original was not a hit, but George Martin saw enough in it to commission it as Black’s follow-up.

The new title and lyrics came from Carl Sigman, who specialised in rewriting lyrics and turning them into UK hits, several of which – Answer Me, It’s All in the Game and The Day the Rains Came – went to number 1.

I think I made my feelings towards Cilla fairly clear in my last blog on her, while at the same time being pretty complimentary about Anyone Who Had a Heart. I couldn’t deny the quality of the song and considered Black’s performance stronger than the Dionne Warwick original. However, You’re My World (Il Mio Mondo) is inferior, and shows up Black’s weakness as a singer. Although this actually worked in her favour last time around, my ears weren’t so keen this time.

Black starts low, which is manageable, but at about a minute into the track, her voice explodes into what sounds like a impression of a caricature of her voice – the kind you’d get on Spitting Image in the 80s. Lyrically, You’re My World (Il Mio Mondo) is nothing to write home about – not compared to a Bacharach and David song, anyway. It’s your average overblown love song in which the singer bigs up her lover to be some sort of godlike figure. As average as it is, it’s saved by an epic George Martin production, which builds from stabbing strings at the beginning (which do suggest Cilla may be some sort of deranged obsessed lover/murderer) into full-blown orchestral loveliness courtesy of Johnny Pearson and female vocal trio The Breakaways. Her future husband and manager, Bobby Willis, also sang on the recording.

You’re My World (Il Mio Mondo) helped firmly establish Cilla as the country’s biggest female singing superstar, and it was a huge hit in several countries. However, despite the fact she had many other smashes in the UK, and is the country’s biggest-selling female solo artist of the decade, it was her final number 1.

She divided opinion even then. In 1965 Randy Newman called her version of I’ve Been Wrong Before the best cover anyone had ever performed of his material. The same year, when her version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin was beaten to the top by The Righteous Brothers’ cover, The Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham took out an advert in Melody Maker to deride Cilla’s performance.

Nonetheless the hits continued, including, among others, her theme song to the film Alfie, written by Bacharach and David. By the end of 1966 she had begun making inroads into television, with her own TV special and an appearance on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Not Only But Also. Epstein had arranged for Black to star in her own series for the BBC shortly before his death in August 1967. Relations had become somewhat strained, with Black feeling Epstein had stopped giving her career the attention it needed. Bobby Willis took over as her manager, and her career improved in 1968 with the number eight hit Step Inside Love, written by Paul McCartney as the theme to her series Cilla.

Other than Cilla, and some attempts at comedy (seeing her attempts at being funny on TV when growing up, I can imagine these were pretty bad), the 70s were relatively quiet for Black. Bill Cotton asked her to consider becoming Bruce Forsyth’s replacement on The Generation Game in 1978, but Black declined and Larry Grayson got the job. She may have subsequently regretted doing so, as the early 80s saw her reduced to cabaret shows.

However, an appearance on Wogan in 1983 went down so well, she found herself in demand once more. Many of the generation that had grown up buying her music were now parents and in need of Saturday night entertainment in front of the box. It’s the Cilla that presented Surprise Surprise from 1984 and Blind Date from 1985 that I grew up with. Ironically, when Blind Date was in development, camp comedian Duncan Norvelle presented a pilot in 1985, but John Birt had reservations about Norvelle’s humour. He clearly wasn’t as open-minded as Bill Cotton in 1978 when Larry Grayson took on The Generation Game.

I was an avid TV viewer as a child, and would watch anything put in front of me, but despite enjoying both shows, I was firmly on my dad’s side in being irritated by her catchphrases and singing, even as a six-year-old. But the fans outweighed the critics and Black became a national treasure and the highest-paid female performer on British television. My mum even appeared in the audience on Surprise Surprise once, and my cousin also featured and won on Blind Date. My main memory of that is of us visiting her house shortly afterwards and discovering her parents had a parrot that liked swearing.

By the turn of the century, both long-running shows were struggling with viewing figures, and Cilla left London Weekend Television. She appeared on many panel shows and had a cameo in ITV comedy Benidorm. 2013 saw ITV celebrate her 50 years in showbiz with a one-off special, The One and Only Cilla Black, hosted by fellow scouser Paul O’Grady. In 2014, Sheridan Smith starred as the singer in the well-received three-part ITV drama Cilla, focusing on her relationship with Willis, who had died in 1999.

In 2014 Black stated she wanted to die when she reached 75, as she couldn’t stand to suffer into old age like her mother did. She was already suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, and her eyesight was failing. She was 72 when she fell and died of a stroke at her holiday home near Estepona, Spain on 1 August 2015.

Her funeral was a star-studded affair, with Cliff Richard singing at the service and a eulogy from O’Grady. As her coffin left the church, the Beatles song The Long and Winding Road was played. Paul McCartney, who had been instrumental in bringing the girl-next-door-turned-national-treasure to the public eye, believed Cilla’s 1972 version of his song was the definitive one.

Written by: Umberto Bindi & Gino Paoli/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 4 (28 May-24 June)

Births:

Actress Kathy Burke – 13 June 

Meanwhile…

16 June: Keith Bennett had turned 12 only four days before he went missing. He was on his way to his grandmother’s house in Longsight, Manchester when Myra Hindley pulled over in her Mini and asked Bennett for help with loading some boxes, in return for a lift home. Her friend Ian Brady was sat in the back when he got in. They drove to a lay-by on Saddleworth Moor, where Bennett walked off with Brady. The following day, yet another missing persons investigation for a child opened in Manchester.

169. The Four Pennies – Juliet (1964)

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In a decade full of memorable number 1s, Don’t Throw Your Love Away by The Searchers is often forgotten, but the song that replaced it at the top is even more rare. Blackburn-based four-piece The Four Pennies hold the dubious distinction of being the only UK chart-toppers to fail to chart in the US during the British Invasion.

The Four Pennies formed in 1963, consisting of Lionel Morton on vocals and rhythm guitar, the marvellously-named Fritz Fryer on lead guitar, Mike Wilshaw on bass, keyboards and backing vocals and Alan Buck on drums.

Originally known as the Lionel Morton Four, they wisely changed their name after a meeting above a local music shop on Penny Street. Their debut single Do You Want Me To was a flop, but the ballad Juliet, written by Wilshaw, Fryer and Morton, began receiving lots of airplay. It was intended as the B-side for second single Tell Me Girl, but demand meant the sides were flipped. Yet despite this demand, and a week at the top, Juliet is all but forgotten. Why so?

Lack of info on The Four Pennies and this song make Juliet somewhat of an enigma. It’s a haunting ballad, and sounds old-fashioned compared to other 1964 hits. Yet at the same time, it has a vague psychedelic feeling to it, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. It could be that it reminds me of something The Coral would have come up with back in 2005 – and it helps that the two groups look like quite similar too.

The similarity should make Juliet appealing to me, but I think it’s been forgotten for two reasons. The first is that it doesn’t fit the narrative of Beatles-era pop that ruled the airwaves in 1964, and the second is that it unfortunately isn’t that much cop. Not bad B-side material, though.

The Four Pennies had a few more hits and released the album Two Sides of Four Pennies (great title), but by 1965 sales figures were already starting to dwindle, so Fryer left the group to form the the folk trio Fritz, Mike and Mo, with Mike Deighan and Maureen Edwards. David Graham replaced him and their fortunes briefly improved, but by the end of 1966, with Graham gone and Fryer back on board, their second album (Mixed Bag) had flopped (the name doesn’t exactly fill you with hope, does it?) and the Four Pennies dissolved.

Morton married actress Julia Foster, who went on to become presenter Ben Fogle’s mum after they split. He was also a children’s TV presenter in the 60s and 70s.

Fryer became a producer, with Motörhead among the acts he worked with. He died of pancreatic cancer in Lisbon, Portugal in 2007, aged 62.

Buck, who had been in Johnny Kidd & The Pirates before the Four Pennies, died of a heart attack in 1994, aged only 50.

With a few exceptions, the number 1s of 1964 so far have been somewhat of a letdown compared to 1963. It was the second half of the year before things went up a notch.

Written by: Mike Wilshaw, Fritz Fryer & Lionel Morton

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 1 (21-27 May)

Births:

Swimmer Adrian Moorhouse – 24 May

168. The Searchers – Don’t Throw Your Love Away (1964)

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The swinging 60s were the decade that, thanks in part to the pill, gave rise to sexual liberation. Promiscuity was all the rage by 1964. So it seems an out-of-step move for The Searchers final number 1 urged their fans to stay safe between the sheets.

Don’t Throw Your Love Away, written by Billy Jackson and Jimmy Wisner, was originally a B-side for Philadelphia R’n’B group The Orlons, tucked away as the flip to Bon-Doo-Wah. British groups were still in thrawl to black American acts at the time, but this was an obscurity compared to some of the more obvious choices, including The Searchers’ first number 1, Sweets for My Sweet. Drummer Chris Curtis was in the process of wresting control of The Searchers out of singer and bassist Tony Jackson’s hands. As with their previous number 1, Needles and Pins, Mike Pender and Curtis took over vocals from Jackson.

The track begins with promisingly, and predictably enough, thanks to Pender’s 12-string guitar work, but it soon settles into a song that musically is little more than a chorus, albeit a memorable one. The verses bemoan lovers that ‘Just throw their dreams away/And play at love’, and despite the usual strong vocal harmonies of Pender and Curtis, it strays too close to hectoring to enjoy, and isn’t musically interesting enough to be able to make the lyrics forgivable.

This third number 1 marked the end of The Searchers’ chart-toppers, and Tony Jackson left them shortly after. He wanted the band to continue with the soul and R’n’B material, but Curtis was keen for them to move into a quieter, more folk-flavoured sound. Jackson was replaced by Frank Allen from Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, and he formed a new group, the organ-dominated The Vibrations, but they didn’t emulate The Searchers’ success and were soon dropped.

Jackson quit the music business, but returned in 1991 and reformed The Vibrations. However in 1996 he was sentenced to 18 months in prison after threatening a woman with an air pistol after an argument over a phone booth… With a number of health issues and an alcohol problem, Jackson died aged 63 in 2003.

Curtis also had his demons. A manic individual, his desire to cover obscure records found in Brian Epstein’s store may have resulted in their downfall. George Harrison’s nickname for him was ‘Mad Henry’. He left the group in 1966, released a solo track with help from future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, and helped form the concept group Roundabout. The concept was that the line-up would keep changing as members got on and off the ’roundabout’…

Curtis’s mental state was further exacerbated by LSD, but he did have the bright idea of auditioning a guitarist called Ritchie Blackmore for the band. Unfortunately for Curtis, he was by now considered too unreliable to continue. Roundabout soon changed their name to Deep Purple. Curtis left the music business to join the Inland Revenue in 1969. In later years he enjoyed performing karaoke at the pub near the home he shared with his mother when The Searchers began. He died in 2005, also aged 63.

The remaining Searchers soldiered on through several line-up changes. Things were looking up at the end of the 70s when they signed with Seymour Stein, head of Sire Records. They released two albums, The Searchers (1979) and Play for Today (1981), that were highly-acclaimed but commercial flops. Mike Pender departed in 1985 and now tours as Mike Pender’s Searchers, while the remaining group (John McNally is the only original member) ended their farewell tour on 31 March 2019.

Written by: Billy Jackson & Jimmy Wisner

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 2 (7-20 May)

Meanwhile…

11 May: Designer Terence Conran opened his first Habitat store on Fulham Road.

12 May: Pirate radio station Radio Atlanta began broadcasting off Frinton-on-Sea. By the end of July, it had merged with Radio Caroline.

16-18 May: Further violence flared between Mods and rockers, this time in Brighton, between 16 and 18 May.

167. Peter and Gordon (Accompaniment directed by Geoff Love) – A World Without Love (1964)

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Despite being the year’s biggest seller, Can’t Buy Me Love only stayed at number 1 for three weeks. However, such was Beatlemania’s power at the time, it was replaced with yet another song with links to the group.

World Without Love was credited to Lennon and McCartney, but had in fact been written by McCartney alone when he was 16, and he had never considered it good enough for his band. He was more than happy though, to help out his lover’s brother, and his schoolmate.

Peter and Gordon were pop duo Peter Asher and Gordon Waller. Redheaded Peter was Jane Asher’s brother, and both were child actors. Born on 22 January 1944 into a wealthy family in Park Royal, London, his father was a consultant in blood and mental diseases at Central Middlesex Hospital, and his mother a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. By coincidence, George Martin was a student there. He first met Gordon at Westminster School.

Gordon was born 4 June 1945 in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His father was a prominent surgeon. The family moved to Middlesex while Gordon was a child. They began performing professionally together as Peter and Gordon in 1962 in coffee bars, and aspired to be the UK’s answer to The Everly Brothers. So when McCartney began dating Jane, he probably thought World Without Love would be the perfect for the duo. The adolescent McCartney was a keen Everlys fan, and he was bound to have had them in mind when writing this.

Back in those first few years of fame, Lennon and McCartney understandably didn’t know how long their fame would last, and McCartney once said in an early TV interview that when the hits dried up they’d like to write for others. If this was the case, it’s probably fair to say they’d have had to try better than World Without Love if they were to continue to score number 1 hits.

It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s pretty pleasant, but the lyrics are melodramatic and clearly written by an adolescent. (The rest of the Beatles used to laugh at the opening ‘Please lock me away’ line). Peter and Gordon’s harmonies are nice, but they’re no match for Phil and Don. The jangly guitar sound is a winner, but this is negated by an awful Hammond organ instrumental section. All in all, it’s doubtful this would have got to number 1 in 1964 without the Beatlemania link, but it does prove that McCartney had an uncanny ear for a nice melody at a young age.

It was downhill after this debut single for Peter and Gordon. McCartney penned several follow-ups specifically for them, but only second single Nobody I Know troubled the charts.

In 1966 McCartney wrote Woman for them but used the pseudonym Bernard Webb to see whether he could give them a hit without his reputation helping. The truth soon came out though, and it only reached 28, regardless.

After the duo split, Asher continued to be associated with the Beatles, becoming the head of A&R at Apple Records. He later became a recording executive in California. Gordon Waller fared less well as a solo artist (although hats off to him for naming his album ...and Gordon in 1972).

In 2008 Peter and Gordon reunited for live performances, but sadly Waller died of a heart attack on 17 July 2009, aged 64. Asher, who was appointed a CBE in 2015 for services to the British music industry, occasionally plays live shows with guitarist Albert Lee.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: Dave Dexter Jr

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 April-6 May)

Births:

Erasure singer-songwriter Andy Bell – 25 April
Lady Sarah Chatto – 1 May

Meanwhile…

29 April: All schools in Aberdeen were closed following reports of 136 cases of typhoid.

1 May: Princess Margaret gave birth to a baby girl, Lady Sarah Chatto.

2 May: The Queen’s seven-week-old son was christened Edward.
That same day, West Ham United won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Preston North End 3-2 at Wembley Stadium.

5 May: The start of a milestone in TV history, as Granada Television broadcast Seven Up! as part of its World in Action strand. Originally conceived as an attempt to examine the differences between social class in the 60s, Michael Apted, researcher on Seven Up! and director from 7 Plus 7 onwards, has returned to the lives of many of the children from the original documentary every seven years. One of the greatest documentary series of all time, it has offered a fascinating look at age and the changes in British society over the years. 63 Up was transmitted in 2019.

166. The Beatles – Can’t Buy Me Love (1964)

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Number 1 for three weeks in April, and the best-selling single of 1964, was The Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love. Significantly, other than the backing track for 1968’s The Inner Light, it was their only English-speaking track recorded outside of the UK.

The Fab Four were in Paris at the time, performing 18 days of concerts at the Olympia Theatre. The West German branch of EMI, Odeon, were convinced the group would get nowhere in their country unless they re-recorded previous singles in German. The band believed otherwise, but reluctantly agreed to rework She Loves You as Sie Liebt Dich and I Want to Hold Your Hand as Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand.

They got through these recordings so quickly, they had time to work on a new Paul McCartney composition (the band had a piano installed in one of their hotel suites so they could continue songwriting). Were the lyrics inspired by Kitty Kallen’s 1954 number 1, Little Things Mean a Lot? It’s a possibility. For the first time, a single by The Beatles featured just the one singer. They also did away with their signature harmonies, although the early version featured on Anthology 1 in 1995 revealed they were originally intended. In this version, the bluesy feel is also more apparent. It’s an interesting version, but the finished product has more swagger.

Critics of Can’t Buy Me Love consider it something of a step back in The Beatles’ swift progression. Possibly so, but it’s as good as any of their early singles to me, and the ditching of the backing vocals, when so many other acts had began copying them, actually suggests a progression of sorts to me.

The lyrics may seem somewhat trite, especially coming from a man who was already becoming very wealthy, but there’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly George Harrison’s stinging rockabilly guitar solo. I used to think this had been double-tracked, but it is in fact simply an overdub, recorded when back in England, over the top of the original, that you can hear in the background.

By the time it was released, the British Invasion was in full swing, and Can’t Buy Me Love broke several records in the US chart, including becoming the only time an artist had three number 1s in a row, and the only time one act held the top five positions. This record in particular is unlikely to ever be broken.

The song featured on The Beatles’ third album, A Hard Day’s Night, their first LP made up entirely of original songs, and made it onto the film soundtrack side. It featured twice in Richard Lester’s movie, which the band were in the process of filming when the single was released. Most famously, it was used in the surreal scene in which the group break free and run around a field. This was originally to feature I’ll Cry Instead, but it was understandably considered too downbeat. Once filming was complete, and with the UK, France and US conquered, it was time to take over the rest of the world.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 April) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

The Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage – 3 April
Scottish historian Niall Ferguson – 18 April
Actor Andy Serkis – 20 April 

Meanwhile…

16 April: Sentencing wass passed on 11 men for their roles in the Great Train Robbery, with seven receiving 30 years each.

18 April: Liverpool, by now considered the musical hotspot of the UK, won the Football League First Division title for the sixth time.

20 April: The Queen’s new son’s name was officially registered as Edward.
That night was supposed to see BBC Two begin broadcasting. However, the start of Britain’s third television channel was scuppered by power cuts, and actually began a day later, with children’s show Play School becoming its first programme. BBC Television Service became known as BBC One.

165. Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas – Little Children (1964)

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Riding high at the top of the charts after toppling Cilla Black, were yet another act connected to The Beatles. Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas had scored three hits penned by Lennon and McCartney, the most popular being their 1963 number 1, Bad to Me.

Understandably, they decided if they wanted to secure a long-term future, they needed to step out of the shadow of the Fab Four. The fact The Dakotas had also scored a hit with their self-penned instrumental, The Cruel Sea, only backed this belief up. And so the group found themselves doing the unthinkable when they turned down another Lennon and McCartney original, One and One is Two, and opted to record Little Children instead.

You have to admire the boldness of Kramer and co, but unfortunately it was as unwise a move as it was brave. If you’re going to try something new in 1964, don’t pick a song by former Elvis collaborators, whose best days were now behind them.

Little Children is a rickety, sickly sweet slice of old-fashioned pop that not even George Martin could turn to gold. In recent years it has received criticism for its sub-paedophilic undertones. If you ask me, this is harsh. It’s a song written in more innocent times, and is actually about a teenager or young man who’s desperate to cop off with his girlfriend, but her siblings are getting in the way, so he tries to win them over and silence them by offering sweets and money. What I won’t excuse, though, is the fact this is a crap, irritating song, and Bad to Me was much better.

But in the short term, the group’s move proved to be a wise one, as following this final number 1, they released another Lennon and McCartney track, From a Window, which only made it to number 10.

In July, bassist Ray Jones left following an argument with Brian Epstein, which was the first in a series of line-up changes. Music was getting heavier and weirder in the next few years, and Kramer’s softer style, plus a drink problem, meant declining fortunes, so in September 1967, Kramer and The Dakotas went their separate ways.

The Dakotas split a year later, with several members joining Cliff Bennet’s band. They reformed in the 80s, with Eddie Mooney on vocals, and in addition to many appearances on the nostalgia circuit, they worked with comedian Peter Kay on the excellent Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights (2001) and the dire spin-off Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere (2004), with new member Toni Baker co-writing all the music to both series with Kay. Kramer is also a regular on package tours of yesteryear, and in 2016 released his autobiography, Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Written by: Mort Shuman & John Leslie McFarland

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 March-1 April)

Births:

Northern Irish racing driver Martin Donnelly – 26 March

Meanwhile…

19 March: The winter of 1964 dragged on into a cold, dull and wet March. Electric power workers were threatening industrial action, which had raised fears of power cuts. Fears intensified on this day when talks broke down. Minster of Labour Joseph Godber appointed Lord Justice Pearson to chair a court of enquiry into the dispute.
On the same day, the government announced plans to build three new towns to act as overspill for the overpopulation problems in London.

28 March: The first famous pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, began broadcasting from a ship anchored outside of UK territorial waters off Felixstowe. It started as an attempt to break the monopoly of the BBC on the airwaves.

30 March: Reports of violent disturbances between mods and rockers at Clacton beach hit the news for the first time.

164. Cilla Black (Accompaniment directed by Johnny Pearson) – Anyone Who Had a Heart (1964)

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Hmm. Cilla Black. I try to come to all these reviews with an open mind, but I was never a fan. I think many people of my age feel the same, too.

To us, she was that wailing banshee that ruled over weekend television in the 80s, presenting Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, wailing the theme tune of the latter at a pitch that could shatter TV screens if you had the volume too high. To my mum, she was a national treasure, to my dad… well, lets just say we felt the same.

When she died in 2015, the media mourned, but if you dug deep on the internet, there were countless stories of a puffed-up prima donna, hated by airplane staff primarily. It seems ‘our Cilla’ could be a nasty piece of work. Now obviously I don’t expect every artist out there to be a lovely person, but when that’s the image they make their money from, it can grate.

That’s my touching tribute out of the way, now on with the facts. Cilla was born Priscilla Maria Veronica White in Liverpool on 27 May 1943. She became determined to make it as a singer while in her teens, and tried to get her foot in the door with a part-time job as a cloakroom attendant at the Cavern Club. It was the perfect example of ‘right place, right time’, as The Beatles were residents there, and they were impressed by her impromptu performances.

She appeared as a guest singer for local acts including Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, who featured Ringo Starr on drums. The local music publication, Mersey Beat (whose name soon coined a whole musical movement) featured her in its first edition, but accidentally referred to her as Cilla Black. She made it her stage name.

Black was introduced to Brian Epstein by John Lennon. Epstein’s roster was rapidly growing, but initially he showed little interest in her. She was never the most technically-gifted singer, but her initial audition with him was a disaster. The Beatles provided her backing on Summertime, but a lack of rehearsal meant that they played it in the wrong key. However, Epstein saw something in Black, a girl-next-door image that could go down well, and a passion to succeed, and in 1963 he took her under his wing.

As someone who’d always struggled to understand just why Cilla was so popular, I assumed The Beatles connection was the sole reason she became famous in the first place. This no doubt played its part, but her debut single, a Lennon-McCartney original called Love of the Loved, barely scraped the charts. Lennon and McCartney were only just learning the ropes of songwriting, what about a duo with previous number 1 success?

Anyone Who Had a Heart was written by one of the decade’s most famous songwriting partnerships, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, for Dionne Warwick. It had become her first top 10 single in the US in January. A scout for George Martin suggested the track could make a strong single for Black. Shirley Bassey had also been mentioned as a possibility, but a canny Bacharach was keen on Black releasing it. He knew that Liverpool was fast becoming one of the most musically important cities in the world, and believed that could only help the song’s chances.

It seems Warwick has never forgiven Black for outperforming her version in the UK, and she has mentioned several times over the years that she considers Black’s version a complete copy. Having compared the two, I surprised myself by siding with Cilla. Not only that, I actually prefer her version. Now that really surprised me.

Black’s voice has never done anything for me, unlike Warwick’s, but I find Cilla’s more soulful and passionate. As the song is about heartbreak, this is how it should be. Warwick’s may be classier, but it’s a bit tame by comparison. Yes, Johnny Pearson’s arrangement is very similar, but I’m not sure what Warwick expected could be done to make it so different. The whole thing smacks of sour grapes to me. So, yes, I found myself appreciating a Cilla Black song! It helps of course that it has the Bacharach and David magic touch. This is a great slice of 60s pop.

Due in part to the rise of beat music, primarily consisting of four or five men on guitars and drums, there hadn’t been a female artist at number 1 since Helen Shapiro’s Walkin’ Back to Happiness in November 1961. Cilla Black ended the drought, and helped give rise to a new type of female singer – a working class, distinctive, a girl-next-door type that may not be the most technically gifted singer, but could make their own mark and inspire others to have a go.

There you go, I’ve bigged up Cilla Black. I’ve surprised myself.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 February-18 March)

Births:

Prince Edward – 10 March
Actor Shane Richie – 11 March
Footballer Lee Dixon – 17 March 

162. The Searchers – Needles and Pins (1964)

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Following on from the group’s first number 1, Sweets for My Sweet, the group had narrowly missed out on the top spot with Sugar and Spice (it was kept at bay by You’ll Never Walk Alone). With Needles and Pins, the group chartered darker territory lyrically (and avoided any links to confectionary for a change).

The song was one of the first compositions by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono, who at the time both worked for mad genius producer Phil Spector. Bono claims in his autobiography that he came up with the lyrics while Nitzsche strummed his guitar, but ownership has also been claimed by Jackie DeShannon, who had first made it a hit in 1963.

The song’s protagonist is full of self-loathing because he has been left so heartbroken by his ex-partner, but he also loathes her too, and thinks her new lover will soon give her a taste of her own medicine, to the point he hopes she’ll one day feel his pain, which manifests as ‘needles and pins’. It’s a clever, sophisticated conceit, in sharp contrast to the simplistic love songs so prevalent at the time. It’s also clever how the misery in the lyrics is somewhat masked by Mike Pender’s sun-kissed 12-string guitar, which had become The Searchers’ trademark and was a precursor to the folk-rock movement that would begin a year later. In fact, Needles and Pins wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Beatles’ Rubber Soul.

Pender also took over from Tony Jackson on lead vocals, with drummer Chris Curtis providing harmonies. Although there was no main singer, and Jackson would perform this live, his role was diminishing.

Sonny Bono would of course go on to form a duo with his wife Cher, and will be back in this blog more prominently in due course. Nitzsche went on to become one of the best arrangers of the decade, working with Spector on Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High before contributing some astonishing psychedelic strings to two of my favourite 60s songs, namely The Monkees’ Porpoise Song and Buffalo Springfield’s Expecting to Fly. He later wrote the unusual but memorable film score for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and co-wrote the Oscar-winning Up Where We Belong, performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes for An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982.

Written by: Jack Nitzsche & Sony Bono

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 3 (30 January-19 February)

Meanwhile…

6 February: The British and French governments reached an agreement to construct a Channel Tunnel. It was predicted that the rail link would take five years to build, which was close, but it took a lot longer to begin than was originally expected. Due to many false starts and cancellations, building began in 1988, and the service began operation in 1994.

19 February: Actor and comedian Peter Sellers married actress Britt Ekland. Sellers was also getting rave reviews for his role in Stanley Kubrick’s satirical film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.